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Kai's Story: From orphan to athlete

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Kai (right) speaks with Britton Lynn (center) with the help of an interpreter. Source: WBRC video Kai (right) speaks with Britton Lynn (center) with the help of an interpreter. Source: WBRC video
Kai, number 32, huddles with the team. Source: WBRC video Kai, number 32, huddles with the team. Source: WBRC video
SHELBY COUNTY, AL (WBRC) -

"There's something in the nature of the game that you don't get playing anything else," said Oak Mountain head football coach Cris Bell. "It gives in direct proportion to what we give it. When you pour everything into (football) it's going to grab a hold of you. [Football] is just so much raw emotion, raw passion. It's so much of what we're missing today in society."

Joyful, quiet, and humility are words not usually associated with football or football players. But Kai Christenberry isn't your typical athlete. Only Kai can lift up his teammates without speaking a word.

"Eagle pride! I'm deaf," Kai said. "God made me beautiful."

The fact that Kai even chose to play, despite difficulty communicating with his teammates, is one miracle.

"I have to watch the quarterback when he takes the snap," Kai said. "And I look at the safety, the coach or the interpreter on the sideline together."

But even more amazing is that Kai is here in Alabama.

"We got a phone call about Kai saying he was this amazing 13-year old boy," said Kai's mother, Kim Christenberry. "They said he was going to have no where to live very soon and asked if we would we consider bringing him home."

Three years ago Kai was one of the 153 million orphans living across the globe.

"In China, families reject their child if they [are] deaf," Kai said. "They don't want them. They don't like deaf [children], they take them to the orphanage. They just get rid of them. In China, they don't know religion, they don't know about God."

At just 13-years-old, Kai was running out of time.

"They generally age out of the system," Kim said. "So that means that [the kids] no longer have a place to live."

It was likely that when he turned 14, Kai would be homeless.

"He would basically be out on the streets to fend for himself, to beg. If he was lucky get some sort of factory job. Just out there alone," Bill Christenberry, Kai's dad, said.

With the help of Lifeline Adoption Agency, the Christenberry family welcomed Kai to their home in Birmingham.

"Sometimes you just know something is right," Kim said. "You just trust. We knew that God was calling us to bring him home. We absolutely know that we won't be put in a situation that we can't handle, as long as we are depending on Him. And I kind of like being brought to my knees. The blessings as adoptive parents are so much greater than what you give."

But Kai joined more than just the Christenberry family when he moved to Alabama.

"The football team is also like a family, like brothers and sisters," Kai said.

Kai went from never having seen the game of football to changing his teammates' perspectives.

"Having a kid like Kai out there, who our kids see on a daily basis," Coach Bell said. "They say, 'good gracious' look at everything this kid has had to come through to get to this point. Then look at the hurdles he still has to jump through just to compete with us. And he doesn't let it phase him. When we take a look at the guy sitting beside us. This guy was in an orphanage in china and he's fixing to get kicked out. That argument with my parents doesn't seem like such a big deal anymore or getting a C on that test or Suzy breaking up with me. It really tends to minimize our troubles."

After only a few months of playing, Kai accomplished more than his team could have ever imagined.

"He recovered a fumble. When he got up...he actually screamed. He made sound. That was a cool deal," Bell said.

Kai, whom the team had never heard speak before, spoke.

"He does something that's impossible. Well that makes our challenges look pretty minute."

Kai's reaction was one of joy.

"I was very proud because I got the football for my team," Kai said.

Now Kai's teaching his teammates what many of them had forgotten.

"We tell our kids to just enjoy what you're doing, don't hold anything back," Coach Bell said. "[Kai] does that."

Those who know him says he does it with one smile at a time.

"He doesn't take anything for granted," Coach Bell said. "It's refreshing and [coaching him] is something that I will always treasure."

But Kai doesn't want his impact to on others to stop in the United States.

"I want to tell my friends [back in China] that are deaf about Jesus and the Bible," Kai said. "I want to show them love. I am completely thankful for Jesus."

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